NABB currently consists of 43 members, made up of 36 member group representatives and a committee of 7 people; Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Marketing, Treasurer, Liaison Officer and Group Support Officer.
All of the NABB committee are active members of their local blood bike group and most also have a committee role within that local team.
Our mandate is to actively work towards parity with other front line emergency services in terms of legislative support and recognition by various government departments and agencies on national topics. We are also active in promoting the professional activities of our members to the Public and our wider NHS ‘clients’.
The service provided by our members adheres to professional standards as defined by the MHRA, NICE, and all road traffic and transport legislation, such as UN3373.
NABB was created in 2008 as a result of a meeting between 4 of the 5 operational blood bikes groups at the time to share ‘best practice’. There was a realisation that a blood bike service, operating to professional standards, would be a great benefit to the NHS if it were to be rolled out across the UK, rather than limited to mainly the south of England, as was the case at the time. NABB then embarked on a 5 year plan to rollout the service across the UK, eventually incorporating the Republic of Ireland too. Between 2008 and 2019, the number of active blood bikes groups rose from 5 to over 40, with in excess of 100,000 responses collectively delivered, free of charge, to the NHS & HSE in 2019, by unpaid volunteers.
With its roots going back over half a century, the concept of a rapid response motorcycle based charity, run by unpaid volunteers has an impressive track record. More than one of the current NABB member groups can proudly demonstrate in excess of three decades of continual service to the NHS and the wider community. Our riders, drivers, despatchers and fundraisers come from a variety of backgrounds, including Airline Pilots, Paramedics, Plumbers, Builders, Teachers, Vicars, Police officers, Professors and many more. They are all unpaid volunteers.
The earliest documented evidence available, identifies Margaret Ryerson and her husband as the founders of the concept in the early 60’s in London, which was built upon later by Des Gibbons in the Stevenage area.
In 2018, Yeovil Freewheelers celebrated 40 years of continual operation, under the watchful eye of its founder, Cecil Turner.
The last 12 years has seen the greatest increase in the number of blood bike groups, meaning that the UK mainland now has a ‘coast to coast’ blood bike service, provided free of charge to the NHS. It is now fair to say that the blood bike industry has become an integral part of the NHS front line services, delivering a robust service to professional standards. The fact that it is free of charge is just the icing on the cake.
Over the last decade or so, many ‘firsts’ have occurred and several significant milestones have been reached on the road to achieving our goal of being recognised as a professional front line service.
Our members have established a nationwide donor milk collection and delivery service, now moving tens of thousands of litres of Human donor milk each year across the UK & Ireland. This product is considered to be a critical component in the treatment and recovery of sick, premature babies being cared for in hospital Neo Natal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). Working in partnership with other specialist charities in that sector, such as UKAMB and the Human Milk Foundation our members have become an integral part of the NHS distribution infrastructure.
In 2008 Freewheelers EVS, operating in the Avon region, were the first to be awarded the Queens Award for Voluntary Service (QAVS), which is the equivalent of an MBE for a charity. To date, a total of 8 blood bike charities have received this prestigious award, underpinning and recognising the professionalism and contribution to the community that these groups deliver.
Two other notable NABB milestones were reached in 2015 and 2020 respectively. First, as a result of sustained campaigning at a senior level within government, NABB succeeded in gaining a change in legislation to allow member groups to recover VAT on all costs associated with providing the service to the NHS. The campaign lasted 4 years from inception to finally achieving the objective. This brought us in line with other sectors of health care such as the NHS and Air Ambulance charities. In the first 5 years of the scheme, the NABB member groups have benefitted collectively by around £1,500,000 in recovered VAT.
Secondly, NABB succeeded in gaining another change in legislation, with the government agreeing that the NABB member’s dedicated charity vehicles (over 350 as of 2020) should be considered in law as ‘Emergency vehicles’ and as such, would be eligible for the zero rated VED (road tax) already available for Fire, Police and Ambulance service vehicles. This change will collectively benefit the blood bike charities to the tune of over £40,000 per annum. The campaign took 6 years to achieve its objective and had to navigate 2 general elections, 3 changes of head of Tax Policy, 3 changes of Prime Minister & government and a Brexit referendum.
Amongst some of the ‘firsts’ are the launch in 2015 of a national service to provide FMT (Faecal Microbiome Transplant) material, distributed from a specialist Midlands hospital to multiple locations across the country and, on a different topic, in partnership with another charity, the Civil Air Patrol, the first use of private light aircraft in a long distance relay. The latter event being in response to the increase in demand and a diversifying of services to respond to some of the time sensitive challenges arising from the 2020 Corona virus pandemic
The Corona Virus pandemic has dealt a double edged blow to the blood bike sector. First of all the volume of requests for transport significantly increased, with many groups opening up their service window from the more traditional night time and weekend service, to full 24x7. At the same time, the primary fundraising avenues dried up overnight, as lock down denied the volunteers the opportunity to fund raise at football matches, outside supermarkets and in giving talks to groups of people, such as the WI and Rotary clubs.
NABB was able to assist in a small way in alleviating some of the increased expense by opening up dialogue with BP, who had offered free fuel to the traditional Fire, Police and Ambulance service vehicles during the pandemic. NABB succeeded in gaining agreement from BP that the blood bike sector would be included in their free fuel scheme. As a result, tens of thousands of litres of fuel was provided to all the UK blood bike charities, free of charge, from BP, over a 10 week period.
The feedback from our client hospitals in response to the blood bike community stepping up to the challenges presented by Covid 19 has been humbling, with one hospital going as far as producing a thank you video.
So the next time you see a blood bike on the road, remember that the rider is an unpaid volunteer, working to professional standards and providing the service to the NHS, free of charge.
#it’s what we do...